SEAPOWER, By SARA FUENTES, Special Correspondent, 23 May 2017
WASHINGTON — The maritime community — including mariners, ship operators, advocates, a cabinet secretary, students and even World War II veterans — gathered at the Department of Transportation in May 22 to observe National Maritime Day.
National Maritime Day is observed every May 22 to honor the sacrifices and contributions of the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine and the American maritime industry. Congress declared the National Maritime Day in 1933 in recognition of the first successful steam propulsion-powered crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Each year, the ceremony includes the traditional wreath laying and the sounding of eight bells to honor mariners lost the previous year, and a reading of the Presidential Proclamation.
In his proclamation, President Donald Trump said, “Today, the men and women who crew ships remain essential to our Nation’s prosperity and security. Those in the maritime industry, including merchant mariners, promote our economic growth, facilitating the export of more than $475 billion in goods just last year and sustaining our critical defense industrial base. Merchant mariners also actively protect our homeland, serving as our eyes and ears on the seas. They serve with distinction and courage, heading into war zones, and too often sacrificing their own lives for our protection.”
Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao was the keynote speaker, and was widely lauded by Maritime Administration (MARAD) employees and other guest speakers for her maritime experience and knowledge. Chao served as deputy maritime administrator under President George W. Bush and her appointment in the Trump Administration was widely praised in the maritime community. Other speakers included Michael Sacco, president, Seafarers International Union; Gen. Darren McDew, commander, U.S. Transportation Command; Lisa Wideland, director, Massachusetts Port Authority; and Vice Adm. Charles Ray, Coast Guard deputy commandant for Operations.
Many of the remarks focused on the role mariners play in America’s national security and economic prosperity. McDew discussed how the U.S. Merchant Marine fleet and mariners are a “cornerstone” of our military success, telling the audience, “You are the decisive force that makes the U.S. a superpower. … You protect our advantage.” MARAD also unveiled a new video about the importance of maritime in America’s past and future, which is hosted on their website.
Special guests in the audience included several World War II Merchant Marine veterans and their families, with a presentation of World War II Merchant Marine Medals and a standing ovation to honor their service. During World War II, merchant mariners had the highest proportional rate of casualties, more than the other services combined, as Chao noted during her remarks. The veterans have been in Washington over recent weeks seeking support for a bill for benefits for the mariners that served in World War II.